In its latest bid to put the sudden acceleration matter behind it, Toyota Motor Corp. has reached a $29 million settlement with attorneys general from 29 states and one U.S. territory.
The agreement, announced Thursday, was originally approved by Toyota’s board in Japan in December, the company said.
It comes less than two months after Toyota announced a record-setting $1.1 billion settlement of hundreds of class-action claims that the automaker’s actions involving the acceleration problem had damaged the value of consumers’ vehicles. And last month, Toyota settled for an undisclosed sum in a major wrongful death suit that had been scheduled to go to trial this month.
Under terms of the latest deal, Toyota will make more safety information about its cars available to consumers and will continue deployment of its “rapid-response service teams” to assist drivers with potential safety problems.
The $29 million will be divided between the states and American Samoa.
“Resolving this inquiry is another step we are taking to turn the page on legacy issues from Toyota’s past recalls in a way that benefits our customers,” said Christopher Reynolds, Toyota Motor Sales’ general counsel.
In bringing the case, the attorneys general alleged that Toyota was guilty of unfair and deceptive business practices by withholding information from consumers about defective components, including accelerator pedals.
In addition, state prosecutors claimed that problems in Toyota’s communication chain between U.S. and Japanese operations contributed to a lack of sharing important safety information.
“Companies that continue to put profits ahead of consumer safety will be held accountable,” said Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in a statement. “This settlement puts auto manufacturers on notice: Customers need to be able to trust that the safety information provided by car manufacturers is accurate and truthful.”
Starting in late 2009, Toyota began a series of recalls related to sudden acceleration events in its Toyota and Lexus vehicles, ultimately recalling more than 10 million cars and trucks worldwide. The automaker faced numerous state and federal investigations and its president, Akio Toyoda, took the highly unusual step of apologizing to Congress.
Several years later, however, Toyota has regained the top spot in worldwide automotive sales, and its stock, which had been hurt by the recall crisis, has rebounded.
A big part of Toyota’s work to move past sudden acceleration has focused on legal settlements. In late 2010, it was revealed that Toyota had settled for $10 million a wrongful death suit involving a 2007 Lexus ES that killed four people including a California Highway Patrolman. In November, it paid $25.5 million to settle a class-action suit filed by investors who claimed its actions had hurt the value of its shares.
The automaker still faces roughly 300 personal injury and death suits in state and federal court. The first scheduled for trial involves a California woman killed in a Camry. It’s set for trial next month in Los Angeles Superior Court.
STATES AND TERRITORIES INVOLVED:
SOURCE: Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General
By Ken Bensinger - Los Angeles Times (MCT)
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